Why Foam Bans Don’t Work

The misperception that PS foam is bad for the environment is largely based on improper disposal (also known as littering), which is highly visible. The positive attributes of foam are less visible to the public and are associated with the production, use, and proper disposal of the product. What people don’t realize is that polystyrene food items represent only 1.5% of all litter.1

A polystyrene ban will not stop people from littering. It will only increase littering of alternative products, such as paper, aluminum, glass, and other plastics. Alternative products use more energy to manufacture than comparable foam products, which is hard to visualize to the public.

Convincing legislators not to ban PS foam could be a big challenge. Consumer pressure is pushing to ban polystyrene (PS) foam saying that PS foam products are bad for the environment.

Manufacturers of polystyrene packaging and foodservice ware are prepared to battle legislation in an attempt to show legislators and consumers that PS foam is valuable to businesses and the economy. Foam bans economically harm small businesses. Many small businesses, especially in the food service industry, use PS foam products to keep material cost low.

“People say they want to do something sustainable, something green,” says Georgia-based J. Michael Martinez, regional manager of government affairs for Dart Container Corporation, which is headquartered in Mason, Michigan. Banning foam is not doing something sustainable or something green. By supporting foam manufacturers, you are supporting jobs and the development of widespread foam recycling efforts.

Martinez said that once legislators have a chance to consider arguments in favor of foam, the legislators often decide not to ban foam. “We have a very big challenge,” said Martinez. “We are dealing with legislators, school officials, consumers, the general public and students …and how do you effectively communicate a great deal of technical information…and dive down that deep into the topic?” 2


1 Environmental Resources Planning, LLC, The Contribution of Polystyrene Foam Food Service Products to Litter, prepared by Steven R. Stein, May, 2012, pp 4, Table 1.

2 Battle to prevent PS bans a ‘big challenge,’ Mike Verespej, April 9, 2012: http://www.plasticsnews.com/headlines2.html?id=25087

Foam Bans